Daily Philokalia

Back in 2004 I was desperate for some kind of deeper spiritual text. Everything in my life had collapsed. I let go, or was forced to let go, most everything that a person holds as defining a successful life.

I had made a decision to stop running from the Void, from the shadows and chaos and darkness that chased me, making me fearful and fretting and angry and depressed. I felt driven by fleeing from that rather than driving towards seeking God. Instead of running I would turn around. I would let them wash over me, standing against them and hoping that God would help me conquer. I made a choice in late 2003 to find some measure of stillness, taking up those few remnants that spoke of that in my soul.

I was cast adrift in a way. Churches don’t know what to do with sorts like I became. I was a seminary graduate, an Evangelical on the edges of the emerging church, who did not seek the excitement of the city or the security of the suburbs. I sought quiet and peace and spiritual depths.

I was burned out and burned up. I needed balm and solace. And found it in the mountains.

Yet, that wasn’t enough. I was learned, to a degree, but not wise. I was spiritual, but not mature. I was pensive, but not contemplative. I wasn’t whole. I wasn’t still. I wasn’t real.

Who was?

To find that answer I knew to go outside my tradition. But where? John Wesley was an initial source, though I found his own frenzy and historical situation somewhat off-putting. However, there was a deep thread of depth in him that spoke to what I was seeking. Who did he read?

I knew some answers, as I had found them in years past. But there was a missing figure, a key source of his own spiritual development: Makarios the Egyptian.

Who?

One desperate day I started doing a search, trying to find where I could read this seemingly wise source of Spirit’s wisdom. Wasn’t in my standard collection of early church writings. I looked around.

Amazon pointed me to a set of books called the Philokalia, which are collected spiritual writings from Orthodox monks, almost entirely from the 1st millenium. I ordered a volume. It blew me away. That was exactly what I sought. These were men who truly sought God, who poured their life into the quest and the discovery of the utter depths of Christian spirituality. They dedicated their lives to this exploration. And they left their wisdom behind.

Being a collection of spiritual texts that touch on how to live, how to pray, how to manage thoughts and passions and hopes and fears, these books did not get into the controversies that lay at the heart of church organization arguments. I have a lot of disagreement with church organization and power structures, that come out of my own experience and education. I also have key theological issues with various churches, that keep me from sharing their communion–or rather that keep them from sharing their communion with me.

These books don’t touch on those. Some may say that the various aspects can’t be separated, but I disagree heartily–though that’s a totally different topic. For me, finding people who wholly and entirely sought God, plumbing the depths in both thought and action pointed me towards a true peace and a true development of wholeness, leading me indeed to where I am now.

God’s call on my life does not, it now seems, include my living a monastic existence devoted solely to isolated intense spirituality. God has called me, pushed me, opened me, outwards now, and there is joy in that. However, for my continued learning, a learning that I will not exhaust no matter how many times I read or years I live, I come back to the Philokalia, advanced texts on living the Christian life.

Next to Scripture itself, these books mark my own spirituality quest more than any other. I bought all four of the released volumes, and since 2004 have read each about three times or so. But, I haven’t done any regular reading for a while.

Now, I’m feeling the push of new worlds and new life. But, I don’t want to set the old behind, but instead bring it with me, infusing this active life with the contemplative, taking the lessons of stillness and wholeness into participation with an unstill and unwhole world.

I am young. I am still so immature. I have an immense amount to learn of God, myself, and our dance together.

So, I am thinking of coming back to the Philokalia on a regular basis, and maybe marking that by noting most every day some of the wise words I find.

These writings were written when the church was still unified, when there was no separation of denomination nor division based on power struggles and demands everyone organize according to one standard model. This was when people who truly sought God shared both communion and hope, embracing each other in the desire for true transformation into the likeness of God and true participation with him for eternity, beginning even this moment. It is in this spirit, in this context, that I’m going to look at these writings again, not for their historical or ecclesial value, but for their value to my soul and to the souls around me.

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